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The Impeachment of Warren Hastings, 1788

Engraved admission ticket to the trial of Warren Hastings, signed by Sir Peter Burrell (1754-1820) Deputy Great Lord Chamberlain. Framed and glazed.

The trial of of the former Governor General of India on corruption charges began in February 1788 and was widely regarded as a social event, as well as a wider debate about the expanding empire in India. It was conducted at Westminster Hall with members of the House of Commons seated to Hastings’ right and the Lords to his left and a large audience of spectators, including royalty, in the boxes and public galleries. The Irish orator and political philosopher Edmund Burke kicked off the proceedings, taking four days to cover all the charges of misconduct, mismanagement and personal corruption against Hastings. 

In spite of the early excitement about the trial public interest in it began to wane as other major events occurred, particularly the French Revolution. Even Richard Brinsley Sheridan, complained he was ‘heartily tired of the Hastings trial’ despite being one of its instigators. As the trial progressed, public attitudes about Hastings also began to shift. Hastings had initially been overwhelmingly portrayed as guilty in the popular press, but doubts were increasingly raised. Increased support for Hastings may have been a result of declining perceptions of his accusers, many of whom had supported the American Revolution but opposed the French. A cartoon by Gillray portrayed Hastings as the ‘Saviour of India’ being assaulted by bandits resembling Burke and Charles James Fox.

By the time the verdict was due to be delivered one-third of the peerage who had been alive when the trial started in 1788 had died. Those who had been in continuous attendance numbered twenty-nine and it was these peers who passed the final verdict of not guilty. Despite his acquittal, Hastings was financially ruined by the impeachment and was left with debts of £70,000. Unlike many other Indian officials he had not amassed a large fortune while in India and he had to fund his legal defence, which had cost an estimated £71,000, out of his own funds. 

Peter Burrell, 1st Baron Gwydyr (1754-1820) Deputy Lord Great Chamberlain, jure uxoris, in the trial of Warren Hastings. was educated at Eton College and St John's College, Cambridge. He was Member of Parliament for Haslemere from 1776 to 1780 and for Boston from 1782 to 1796. He married in 1779, Lady Priscilla Barbara Elizabeth Bertie, the daughter of Peregrine Bertie, 3rd Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven. She succeeded to a large part of the Ancaster estates in 1779, to the barony of Willoughby of Eresby in 1780 and to the hereditary office of Lord Great Chamberlain. Burrell was knighted in 1781 and became her deputy. He succeeded his father in 1775 and his great-uncle Sir Merrick Burrell as 2nd Baronet in 1787. He was created Baron Gwydir on 16 June 1796.


A keen amateur cricketer Burrell has been called the third most influential member of the White Conduit Club and of the early MCC, after George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea and Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond. His playing career extended to just 9 known first-class matches from 1785 to 1790. He played for Kent in a couple of matches although he was a Londoner by birth and his family seat was in Sussex. He was a very useful batsman as indicated by his highest innings of 97 playing for White Conduit Club v Gentlemen of Kent at White Conduit Fields on Thursday, 30 June and Friday, 1 July 1785. With Priscilla Bertie he had lived at Langley Park, Beckenham and had three sons and a daughter. He was succeeded in his titles by his eldest son Peter Robert Drummond-Burrell, 2nd Baron Gwydyr, 22nd Baron Willoughby de Eresby.


© The Armoury of St James's 17 Piccadilly Arcade London SW1Y 6NH